By Amanda Litvinov / photo courtesy of Governor of Virginia
On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a budget bill that expands Medicaid, boosts funding for public schools, and raises educator salaries.
Northam, who has long supported expanding Medicaid and investing more in public schools, is credited with building support among Republicans for the Medicaid expansion, which will cover as many as 400,000 low-income residents.
The federal government offered states money to fund Medicaid expansion starting in 2014, but until now, Virginia declined to accept the funds. That has placed tremendous strain on the state government to cover health services. Education funding suffered as a result, both in terms of per-pupil funding and educator pay.
Accepting federal funding for Medicaid freed up state dollars, allowing legislators to add more than $530 million to K-12 general funds, and $131 million for a 3 percent pay raise for state-supported educator positions as well as some new positions (details here).
“That is a down payment and a first step on restoring the funding our schools need and the professional pay educators in Virginia deserve,” said Jim Livingston, a middle school math teacher from Prince William County and president of the Virginia Education Association.
“The Virginia Education Association has fought very hard for greater investment in our public schools because it is the right path forward, not just for each child but also because the economic well-being and civic vitality of our Commonwealth depend on a well-funded system of public education,” Livingston said.
Catie Kruger is a future teacher studying at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and president of the Student Virginia Education Association. She supported Gov. Northam’s election last fall in part because he spoke consistently about the need to raise Virginia’s stagnant teacher salaries, which have fallen to nearly $8,000 below the national average.
Teacher pay ultimately affects students, said Kruger, and raising it “represents the kind of long-term investment that will sustain the public school system and keep top teachers in Virginia.”
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax played a critical role in passing the budget bill, casting several tie-breaking votes in the Senate that paved the way for the Medicaid expansion. Virginia elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately; both Northam and Fairfax received the recommendation of the Virginia Education Association in 2017.
“This budget is a step in the right direction,” said VEA President Livingston. “We look forward to continuing to build upon the steps taken here to move toward an even stronger commitment to our public schools in future legislative sessions.”